August 1st, 2012 at 7:26 am
The best athletes in the world have gathered in London for the Olympics and many of us are gathered around our televisions cheering them on. Nearly 11,000 athletes paraded into Olympic Stadium during the opening ceremonies, along with 70 sheep, 12 horses, 10 chickens, 10 ducks, nine geese, three cows, two goats and three sheepdogs. No, these animals are not competitors; they were just part of the “Isles of Wonder” theme of the ceremonies.
But several events at this year’s summer games will feature animal athletes working in conjunction with human athletes. More than 200 horses from 40 countries are scheduled to compete.
In the ancient Olympics, chariot racing and horseback riding were key events. Equestrian competitions have been part of the modern Olympics since 1900 and this year will include six events:
- Eventing, Team Competition
- Eventing, Individual Competition
- Dressage, Team Competition
- Dressage, Individual Competition
- Olympic Show Jumping, Team Competition
- Olympic Show Jumping, Individual Competition
In Eventing, (sometimes called horse trials), horses and riders are tested over four days in cross country jumping, dressage, and stadium jumping.
Dressage (sometimes called “horse dancing” or “horse ballet”) is essentially a test of how well a horse and rider have trained to work together. They are judged by a panel of seven international judges on a number of predetermined movements defined by the Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI), the governing body for equestrian events. In a little celebrity news, Mitt Romney’s wife, Ann, has a horse named Rafalca that is competing as part of the US men’s dressage team.
Olympic Show Jumping takes place in a riding ring laid out with 10 to 16 jumps. The courses are elaborate and colorful, and the horse/rider team is judged on the fewest jumps knocked down, fewest penalties called, and fastest times.
The only other Olympic event that features animals is the modern pentathlon, which includes show jumping on horseback (as well as epee fencing, pistol shooting, cross-country running and freestyle swimming).
I hope you and your family are having as much fun watching the athletes compete—human and equine—as we are. For more information on all things Olympic, visit teamusa.org, olympic.org or nbcolympics.com.